BOSTON (CBS) – There’s a famous story from the Vietnam War era about the legendary CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, known back then as “the most respected man in America,” as hard as that might be for today’s news consumers to imagine. When President Lyndon Johnson watched Cronkite deliver a scathing report about the progress of the war, he reportedly turned to an aide and said: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”
Could something like that be happening now within the formerly conservative-to-apolitical world of country music?
Kelly Clarkson, a Texan and a licensed gun owner, is not the only prominent figure in the country community to put the NRA on notice of a cultural backlash, after her comments at the Billboard Music Awards Sunday night, two days after the school shooting at Santa Fe, Texas.
“Why don’t we not do a moment of silence, why don’t we do a moment of action, why don’t we do a moment of change, why don’t we change what’s happening because it’s horrible,” Clarkson said.
Garth Brooks and other country stars went out of their way to praise Emma Gonzalez and the other Parkland High School activists pushing for tougher gun laws.
After Parkland, singer Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland tweeted: “I wonder how long it will take our government to do anything at all.”
But the fact is that within weeks of that horrific event, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, proud holder of a 100-percent approval rating from the NRA, signed major new gun restrictions into law in that traditionally pro-gun state.
Celebrity political clout is usually way overstated. But the increasingly bold activism of Clarkson and her peers is a sign of a new generation, appalled by mass shootings, ignoring the conventional wisdom that country stars have to worship at the altar of the gun if they want to remain stars.